Here's what it got me thinking about, though: As a luthier (or an artist, or a writer, or a designer, or a scientist....) who wants to make a living at it there is a constant tension between what one wants to do and what will sell.
People ask me occasionally if I would make a violin in an unconventional color like blue. I could, but someone would have to pay me for it up front because I don't think it would sell. Classical players tend to be conservative in their tastes, and if you play in an orchestra there could actually be a clause in your contract about the appearance of your instrument. But the truth is, I don't want to make a blue violin. It doesn't appeal to me. Maybe it will someday, but not today. So would I build one if you paid me? Probably.
Is that selling out? Not really. It's a challenge to work within different parameters. I would find a way to do it in a manner that I still found satisfying. However, if a job completely offended all my sensibilities I would turn it down. For instance, there is no price at which I would carve swastikas into my instruments.
So as much as I was leaning against rosewood fittings I'm reexamining the idea after all of your input. The only person who shared my thoughts on fittings for my new violin, interestingly, was Aden. She has a good sense of color and design and I trust her taste, so I asked what she thought. She studied my violin for a minute against each of the tailpieces I had at home and then said she understood why everyone was attracted to the rosewood because it was pretty in and of itself and it did go with the varnish. She liked the rosewood, but thought the boxwood was not as distracting. This is what I was thinking, and is probably why most of the violins I've seen out there built by Stradivari and comparable people currently have boxwood fittings on them; so you will look at the actual lines of the instruments and not have your eye drawn too quickly to details. I want people to look at the violin (which I made) as opposed to the fittings (which I didn't). Boxwood is understated. Rosewood is showy.
However, I also want this instrument to sell. It should have a home and be out playing in the world or else what good is it? If the general consensus is rosewood, and that feature is enough to give my violin an edge over another with a buyer, then it makes sense to use rosewood. In the end the violin is not for me, so in some ways my preference doesn't matter, even if it's my work.
|Klein viola 2008|
|Quirky Klein Scroll|
The first instrument I ever entered in a Violin Society competition was a violin on which I used a combination of potassium dichromate and tannic acid to create the ground color under the varnish. It gives the wood an aged look that I kind of liked. People loved it. Judges hated it. Every judge said, "Oh, potassium dichromate?" and shook his head. But that instrument only took a month to sell. Whatever judges are judging versus what people are judging can certainly be different.
I've been going back and forth in my mind about this question with my writing as well. Fellow writers try to console me as I'm getting buried in rejections that it has less to do with writing and more to do with business. It doesn't matter if an agent likes my book, it matters if an agent can sell my book. And selling books is becoming a very complicated business indeed with everything about the industry in flux, so I don't know what to make of it. I don't want to write books while thinking about what sells. I just want to write good books. I feel if I ever start writing based on what other people want then I shouldn't bother, but is it really more personal than building violins? Maybe what the judges in that industry want is different from what people want anyway, and I should just bypass the system somehow. I need to think about that more.
In the meantime, I'm getting my new violin ready to play. This one is constructed by the book because I want useful feedback. I do not want anyone distracted by color or creative carving or pegs that are fun, I just want to know what things I might be doing well and how I can improve. Will rosewood vs. boxwood affect that? I don't think so, but it's hard to say.
I like this violin and I'm looking forward to hearing it. I like that it is simple and straightforward. But I have some overly creative ideas that would probably make judges keel over and I plan to get to those soon. Because some things you make to sell, and some things you just make because they must be made. Stay tuned. (And no, I didn't realize until I typed it that that was a pun.)
|My two latest violins, all polished up!|